a whole new kind of garden

Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey gets credit for showing up and engaging with the protestors there. He’s all about police reform, just like we’ve been hearing for years all over the country. 

When asked, however, he indicated that he would not support fully defunding the department at the epicenter of the current unrest. That response was met with immediate scorn from the gathering of protestors surrounding him. They jeered him from the event, the crowd parting for his shamed departure.

Calls for reform, at this point nothing more than a tired rejoinder, are just not enough.

And if you weren’t convinced that reform is not enough, have a moment to consider the members of the Buffalo, New York emergency response team — all of whom resigned their roles on that team (though not their jobs) in solidarity with the two now charged with felonious assault on a 75-year old protestor. They and others assembled to cheer those two after their release. Do the citizens of Buffalo feel safer now?

What is this group of people really about? They can avert their eyes and walk past a bleeding old man laying on the ground after members of their own delivered blows to him, but they’ll show up enthusiastically in a way that ultimately communicates the notion that laying blows on a 75-year old non-violent protestor is somehow justified in their world.

It is not enough to talk simple reform. All of the various attempts at reform still led to this day.

Defunding these departments and diverting the monies to positive, supportive development in the communities makes all the sense in the world. After watching so much police violence now and through the years, and considering some of the toxic police union rhetoric, fully defunding does not sound unreasonable.

As in disband. Let ‘em all go. Phase our current departments out, and start over with a whole new approach. 

We wouldn’t even call our new groups ‘police’ or use the militarized moniker ‘officers’ — or, for that matter, captains, sergeants, units, etc. Forget all that military stuff, including the weaponry.

No, I’m not sure what we’d call them but their objective would be laser focused on peace and safety for the people. They would be trusted community partners, not an opposing, militarized force acting as the muscle of the government and the privileged. They would value life and quality of life over property. 

It will require a lot of rethinking.

It is something that needs to be fleshed out in a community process. One that ought to get started in communities across the nation.

Let’s start a whole new kind of garden. Let’s do it permaculture style – sustainable, supporting life, resilient, caring, and fair.

action not platitudes

So, what I’m wondering is…. where’s the response?

People across the nation are protesting. There is clearly a problem, and many people are speaking out their anger and frustration. Although George Floyd’s inexcusable murder was a triggering event in the midst of a bizarre and stressful time, the emotions didn’t evolve overnight. 

One would think that leaders in our country would be proposing actual solutions.

Instead, while everyone is protesting the police, in response, all we get is more policing. Videos abound of police in their damn riot gear intimidating peaceful protestors, bullying them, yelling at residents and protestors, and using violence that ranges from pushing people down, whether they are walking with a cane or not, to ramming them with their vehicles.

And sure, I applaud people like Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson in Flint who set his baton down and marched with the people, but we have to look beyond moments of solidarity and ask, okay, how are we really going to fix this?

Where, I ask, where is the leadership? There is an absolute void, whether Republican or Democrat, of a leader anywhere who is stepping in to actually address the grievances being raised across this nation right now. Shooting for looting is not a problem solver. Nor is empty rhetoric like calls for “healing this country“ from Mr. You Ain’t Black.

Hellooooo!!! We are looking for a real leader who actually has some vision and the ability to articulate it, formulate it, and execute a meaningful response. We’re talking about substantive, structural, practical changes on behalf of the people. We want positive, compassionate action, not just words.

So far, crickets.

How about defunding police departments?  As in, let’s have less policing, not more. I know I’d feel safer. Invest those funds in the creation of positive, healthy communities that stand on peace, justice, and equality.

How about demilitarizing the police? Yeah, we really don’t like seeing those bully lines of black-garbed soldiers ranged against we the people. We don’t want to see tanks on our streets. We’re sick and tired of SWAT raids, tasers, and bullets.

How about developing a compassionate approach to policing, implementing new commonsense training right from the get-go, and recruiting a suitable type of person for such work?

How about a livable minimum wage? As in, why, yes, we actually do care about all of our workers and their families, essential and beyond.

How about depopulating and closing prisons? We all know there’s just no reason for us to be the worldwide leader for imprisonment, unless, of course, you want to make a profit.

How about healthcare and housing solutions? How about equity in the workplace? How about equity in schooling? How about meaningful work? I don’t know, I could go on.

And just as there is a dearth of healthy leadership in government, we also yearn for leadership for those oppressed. Both the literal and figurative knee on the neck serve well to suppress much needed organized dissent and vision on behalf of the suffering classes. Maybe now is the time those visionary voices can rise and lead again to make for a better nation for all.

a bigger picture

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As a vegan, it is my policy to tread gently with others. I have been where they are – for most of my life. I understand that the concept can feel weird, uncomfortable, and threatening.

At the same time, I feel no reason at all to be apologetic for my own perfectly valid, considered, non-harmful lifestyle choices.

So, recently, when the topic of bacon came up during a casual conversation with a friend, it took an interesting turn.

Now, I understand how deeply committed to bacon many folks are. I get that this is a love affair.

Thus, when the topic was introduced by my friend, I innocently and with a chuckle observed that all that bacon eating might not be such a healthy thing. I did not launch into an impassioned vegan rant, I was just making conversation.

Nevertheless, one thing led to another with an increasing level of challenge and defensiveness on my friend’s part – despite the fact I was not challenging them for their choices.

To my dismay, in the space of about ten sentences – it was a brief discussion – my friend managed to become all upset and wanted to know why I would choose to distress them.

And then I was distressed. I had no intention to distress my friend, nor was I judging them. Neither did I feel good about being challenged and judged for own my personal, reasoned choices.

Inasmuch as someone else can unabashedly proclaim their love of bacon, how can it be somehow inappropriate for another to gently demonstrate their thoughtful abstinence of it?

And how in the world is it that those who choose to quietly act on compassion for animals should be ridiculed or judged negatively for that?

But I have observed this phenomenon before.

It comes from a gut knowing that causes an uncomfortable dissonance in a person. They don’t like to confront the conflict – the conflict within themselves. It is inherent compassion coming up against known cruelty – and not being able to reconcile that. 

Most of the time it’s not a problem, because we simply keep it hidden from ourselves.

There is no blame in this. Our culture demands this dissonance of us. It tamps it down by normalizing everything and hiding the evidence.

Every now and then, though, it can rise to the surface and we see it for what it is. And that doesn’t feel so good.

Those are the moments that offer possibilities, though – ones that ask us to look at the world with a broader perspective – opening our eyes not only to difficult practices in our culture and our world, but to the beautiful depths of our own compassion. The implications go way beyond food.

I am grateful to my friend for reminding me of all this, for reminding me of my why, for helping me to keep my eyes open and to look at the bigger picture. Maybe my friend is seeing it, too.